John Brown: A Brief History Of Prison Riots

John Brown: A Brief History Of Prison Riots


As they say, one can judge a society by the way it treats its prisoners. If we use that criterion to analyze our nation, we might be given the death penalty. Last Saturday, inmates at a Southern California prison rioted for 11 hours straight—leaving 250 people injured and 30 hospitalized. The frequency of prison riots has only escalated over the years as inmate populations swell and conditions deteriorate.

The myth of incarceration is that it rehabilitates, that it removes societal menaces for the general public's well-being, and that it is a humane and effective approach to dealing with crime. It is not. America's entire prison industry borders on cruel and unusual punishment. But the U.S. is not alone in its addiction to lock-down. Prison riots occur often throughout the world, sometimes with even more devastating outcomes. Here's a look at some of the biggest prison riots in world history...


5. ATTICA PRISON RIOT; Attica, NY, 1971
Considered the deadliest prison riot in U.S. history, this four-day revolt left 43 people dead and cost the state tens of millions of dollars. Overcrowded conditions ignited the riot and inmates took control of the entire prison for the first day. Authorities then forced about 1,300 rioters to eventually retreat to an area in the exercise field, where they held ten prison guards hostage. Governor Rock-e-feller intensified the fight like Rumsfeld in '01, ordering authorities to respond with force. With 3,000 rounds of tear gas engulfing the exercise field, police fired like a Fallujah showdown, killing 39, including the ten hostages. "I'd open every cell in Attica send em to Africa..."
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4. NEW MEXICO STATE PENITENTIARY RIOT; Santa Fe, NM, 1980
In what was one of the more gruesome prison revolts in U.S. history, this 36-hour siege resulted in 33 inmate deaths, allegedly at the hands of other inmates. The prison was a ticking time-bomb. In addition to jam-packed conditions, prison guards routinely punished uncooperative inmates by labeling them as "snitches," resulting in abuse from other prisoners. On Feb. 2, inmates took seven guards hostage, obtained a set of keys, and embarked on a prison-wide brawl. Reportedly, some prisoners found blow torches and used them on rival inmates, killing dozens. A negotiation process eventually brought the riot to a close. Despite talks, state officials refused to improve prison conditions out of spite. And the beat goes on...
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3. STRANGEWAYS PRISON RIOT; Manchester, England, 1990
This 25-day revolt is regarded as the longest riot in Britain's history. Strangeways was notoriously overcrowded, with inmates housed three to a one-person cell. An organized riot erupted in the prison chapel on April Fool's Day and inmates took over several areas, including the roof. Lengthy negotiations resulted in inmates agreeing to surrender in exchange for improved conditions. A subsequent government investigation concluded that Strangeways was indeed an inhumane facility and legislation was introduced to improve living standards.
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2. LUCASVILLE RIOT; Lucasville, Ohio, 1993
No prison riot in Ohio led to more reforms than the one that occurred here on Easter Sunday, 1993. With the prison population at 150% capacity, 450 inmates rioted for two weeks straight until hundreds of National Guardsmen quelled the revolt. Circumstances surrounding the riot's cause are controversial, and the whole ordeal has been eyed as a possible Hollywood script. Seriously. All in all, $40 million in damage was inflicted on the prison, nine inmates were allegedly beaten to death, and one guard was strangled. In addition to several subsequent prosecutions, Ohio spent millions of dollars on its prison system to supposedly alleviate overcrowding and prevent future riots. Yeah, OK.
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1. SÃO PAULO HOUSE OF DETENTION RIOTS; São Paulo, Brazil, 1992
Latin America's largest prison—built for 3,500 but housing 7,300—was the scene of the world's deadliest prison revolt. Brazil's military police didn't want to negotiate after rival gangs erupted into a three-hour riot. Police shot and killed 111 inmates—10 percent of the prison population. Human rights grouped blamed authorities for lacking restraint, pointing out that military police in Brazil are responsible for 20% of the country's annual homicides. "Can't tell the difference between the cops and the robbers, they both partners..."

Tags: john-brown, politics-crime, prisons, riot
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